chinese flag flying in a stormy sky
chinese flag flying in a stormy sky
chinese flag flying in a stormy sky

Midjourney Bans Xi Jinping Pictures

BKMT Staff

Apr 5, 2023


Midjourney, an AI service that uses natural language descriptions to generate images - has faced backlash for its recent ban on users creating pictures of Chinese President Xi Jinping. The company cites concerns about deepfakes, which are digitally manipulated representations created through advanced machine-learning techniques. These deepfakes can be used to spread false information and propaganda, prompting the ban from Midjourney.

Despite the ban, some users have discovered workarounds. By using the /imagine function and providing the full URL of an existing photo of Xi or the /blend function to combine two existing photos, they have been able to generate deepfakes of Xi. Although these methods are not as seamless as generating an image directly from a description, they still enable users to create images of Xi.

As a response, Midjourney has disabled access to its free trial version, and any attempt to generate an image featuring Xi's likeness or even mentioning his name in a prompt is strictly prohibited. The platform still allows users to create images of other world leaders, but the Chinese President is explicitly excluded.

Midjourney's CEO, David Holz, exchanged messages on Discord last autumn, revealing that the company had received complaints from local users regarding "various topics in different countries." In response, Midjourney blocked numerous related words. However, according to chat logs examined by The Washington Post, Holz refrained from listing the prohibited terms to avoid stirring unnecessary controversy.

Holz noted that the prohibited words were not exclusively linked to China but acknowledged that China was a particularly sensitive matter. Political humor, in particular, could pose a risk to Chinese users. Therefore, Midjourney implemented the ban to ensure users' safety and protect against false information and propaganda.

Although the intention was to prevent the spread of deepfakes, the ban has sparked a debate about whether it is appropriate to limit access to technology in this manner, especially when it appears to be selective rather than applied universally. This controversy raises questions about where to draw the line when creating AI-generated images of world leaders. Why is it acceptable to create images of some leaders, but not of others? Critics widely argue that selective bans like this can lead to a slippery slope that undermines the fundamental principles of free speech and expression. Nonetheless, Midjourney believes that its ban is necessary to protect its users from the risks of false information and propaganda.